Thinking about starting a composter in your backyard this spring? I’m all for it, as long as you do it right. Composting is more than just throwing a bunch of kitchen scraps into a unit you bought at the hardware store. Composting is about creating soil that is so full of amazing nutrients, that your plants grow huge without the use of fertilizers or additives. Think of compost as the healthy stuff your plants need to survive. Much of it is already in the soil, but as your plants use it to grow, they need more added to replenish; things like calcium, nitrogen and magnesium.
First rule of good composting…no protein based scraps from your kitchen. This list includes meats and fats. Even cheese is off the “good” list. The types of bacteria needed for meat, cheese and sour milk composting are very different than for vegetable scraps. Not to mention the smell that is going to come out of your composter as the proteins begin to rot. GROSS!
Instead of meats, add eggshells. As a natural form of calcium, eggshells are perfect in your compost mix. Eggs shells are an easy and totally natural way to add calcium to the garden beds. By increasing the calcium levels in the ground, you can avoid some of the diseases that occur with vegetable growing; like the dreaded blossom end-rot on tomatoes and cucumbers. Don’t be worried if the eggshells don’t completely break down by the time you spread the soil under your plants. The remaining shells work as a good deterrent for slugs
Keeping in the breakfast theme, coffee grounds are great in the composter too! Used coffee grounds add acidity to the compost which is a good thing for many different types of crops especially blueberries. Just use some caution if your drink A LOT of coffee. Too much can over-acidify the soil. Aim to add coffee once a week to a small composter.
Ashes from the fireplace, fire pit or a cold campfire are a fantastic source of several minerals including lime and potassium. Just make sure that they are completely cold before you add them. Composting already generates heat, adding a live coal can light your composter on fire…the worst smelling fire ever!
Worms are a given. You need worms in your compost pile. It’s their job to help eat the natural waste and turn it into worm poop (castings) which plants love. If your composter is open at the bottom and directly on the ground, the worms will find their way into the mix. If you have a closed bin, buy some worms from the local fishing store.
Your composter needs water and air! Adding water helps speed up the process of natural breakdown by keeping everything moist. The microbes that do the work need water to survive. A dry pile takes a lot longer to breakdown. Air is also very important. By turning and mixing your compost pile, you get even break down of all of the materials inside.
Paper is great in the composter. Even thin cardboard like toilet paper rolls works well. Just make sure to avoid the boxes that have glossy finishes or are covered in tape. Neither of these compost well, nor do you want to add soil with chemical residue to your edible plants.
Now some of the gross things you can add to your composter…your hair or your pet’s hair is a fantastic source of nitrogen. This gets released into the compost pile, and eventually some of it makes its way to the plants. Hair will also help keep down some of the rodent population because it smells like humans. With the hair…toss in your toenail clippings.
Laundry Lint and the stuff from the vacuum bin is great in the pile. All of that blue and red lint that comes out of your clothes dryer is a source of nutrients for the compost heap. Even the dust and dirt from the vacuum can be composted. Just make sure that when you are adding it, you spread it out so that it breaks down faster.
Dog poop yes…cat poop no! If you have a ‘hot’ compost pile (one that is warm from the decomposition process) you can safely add dog poop to it. The biggest concern with using feces from dogs is the presence of roundworm. Cat poop in theory can be composted. The danger is that unless your pile is REALLY hot, the naturally occurring parasites (like e. coli) will not be killed and end up spread throughout your yard. (Better to just skip that one!)